You can choose what type of plants to grow by comparing just a few of the characteristics of annuals and perennials. Chances are, though, that when you're finished comparing you'll make room for some of each!
The crocus surprises us in early spring as it dares to peek through the snow and lift its face to the sun. Soon after tulips, narcissus, iris, and lilacs follow, all of them perennial plants that welcome spring with vibrant colors that seem to magnify their robust zest for life.
Perennial plants bloom at different times during the growing season, delighting us from earliest spring to late autumn with their diversities of shapes, colors, and sizes.
However, many perennial cultivars like bloom only for a few short weeks. Then blossoms disappear and foliage provides a good backdrop for annual flowers.
Annual plants provide a garden with continuous bloom and color throughout the summer. The "mission" of an annual is to produce seed. Seeds sprout, foliage grows, flowers bloom and then the plant goes to seed and the cycle repeats until autumn.
At season's end the entire plant– flower, foliage, and root system –dies. Some annuals have a very short life span. And depending upon when you plant them, may reseed and go through two or more growing cycles per season.
Other annual plants grow continuously from spring planting until the first frost of autumn.
Fall planting means flower bulbs for next spring
Since annual plants wither and die at the end of each growing season, you'll need to replace them each year. Garden centers and nurseries price many young annual seedlings inexpensively in flats that contain four or more plants.
This is an added benefit, since many varieties of annuals can be closely grouped to fill in barren areas of your landscape.
Although perennial plants are typically more expensive to purchase than annuals, in the long run you may find them less expensive since they last for years beyond a single growing season.
You can also purchase groups of assorted perennial bulbs in very inexpensive packages.
Perennial foliage and flowers also die at the end of a growing season, but contrary to annuals, the root systems of perennial plants live over winter and resprout with new growth each spring.
Another advantage of perennial plants is that although flowers and foliage die back, the branches of perennial shrubs offer some visual appeal to a winter landscape and make a great place to park holiday decorations!
Because annual plants live for only a single growing season, many feed heavily as they follow a pattern of growth, bloom, and self-reseeding during the summer. In addition, a shorter lifespan doesn't give most annuals the chance to sink deep roots to search for water. Since many cultivars also spend their time under the hot summer sun, annual plants often need more frequent watering than perennial plants do.
Perennial plants may take more than one season to reach full maturity. Because perennials propagate from root structures, many types of perennials also need to be divided after three or four seasons to reduce crowding and maintain their vigor.
Although all perennial plants are able to resprout for multiple seasons, perennials are divided into categories of hardy perennials or tender perennials according to the temperature zone in which they are grown.
Tender perennials need your help to survive the winter. You can over-winter some perennials by covering them with a layer of mulch or otherwise protecting them from the elements with gardening appurtenances such as rose cones, but you'll need to lift some types of tender perennials and store them indoors during cold winter weather.
Hardy perennials are those that you can leave in the ground to return the following season. Except for occasional division and/or pruning, hardy perennial plants need little care once established.
Bulbs like tulips and daffodils are among the easiest plants to grow and excellent choices for a beginning gardener.
So the question remains, do you need annual plants or perennials?
If you love flowers, each type of plant is ripe with "pros" and short on "cons". The best way to decide if you need annuals or perennials is to experiment by planting some of each to get a full season of color, variety, and pure gardening enjoyment!